VINTAGE STAR looks another fine staying prospect for Sue and Harvey Smith after putting up a game performance to win the Weatherbys Hamilton Insurance Graduation Chase at Carlisle yesterday.
The Smiths already have the Grand National winner Auroras Encore and Hennessy Gold Cup player Cloudy Too in their Craiglands Farm ranks and this Trevor Hemmings-owned seven-year-old is probably not far behind those two in the pecking order.
A promising novice last season, he found the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in March too big an ask, but he once again showed his potential in winning this hot contest.
Grand National runner-up Cappa Bleu, David Pipe's Buddy Bolero and Michael Smith's Imperial Vic were all put to the sword, with Vintage Star (13-2) hanging on to beat Buddy Bolero by a neck with Imperial Vic just behind.
Evan Williams had warned beforehand that Cappa Bleu would need the run and that proved to be the case.
"He was good today, he's a grand horse and always has been," said Hemmings' racing manager Mick Meagher.
"He kind of lost his way on his last couple of runs last year, his jumping became very sticky, so it was important to put in a good round of jumping today.
"It's surprising how well he handled the ground because he's by Presenting. He's won here before on similar ground.
"We didn't have any real plans because of the way he finished last season. The handicapper can't do much after that; it wasn't a handicap and he was actually well-in today."
Another smart sort on show was Williams' Milo Man (4-5 favourite) who made a winning debut over timber in the Christmas Parties At Carlisle Racecourse Novices' Hurdle. He was thought good enough to run in the Cheltenham Bumper last March, but found things happening a bit too quick that day and finished down the field.
Paul Moloney set his own fractions out in front on this occasion, making it a real stamina test and bar a slightly tired leap at the last, it was a faultless display as he came home five lengths clear of Greensalt.
James Ewart's string have sprung to life this month and he saddled a double with Snuker and Rockawango.
Snuker relished the stamina test of the Watch Racing UK On Sky432 Handicap Chase. The 2-1 favourite can not have it soft enough and jumped with aplomb for Brian Hughes.
"He's had a hell of a lot of work. Our grass gallops have been heavy, waterlogged in places for about two months so we've had no excuse for fitness," said Ewart.
"I think he's specifically a horse for heavy ground. He's out of a Roselier mare, Briar Rose, who was a bit of a specialist in heavy ground, she was a bit of a tractor, and he's slightly in the same mode. The softer the ground, the better his chance as they go a gear slower which allows him to use himself better and jump more efficiently because if he goes a bit too fast, then he makes mistakes.
"I think we will look to try to come back here because I will keep him to right-handed tracks as he jumps that way, so that unfortunately rules out places like Ayr and Newcastle which might have races to suit him."
Rockawango (11-8), also ridden by Hughes, tracked the odds-on Little Glenshee all the way before pouncing after the last to win by six lengths.